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What does a policy analyst do?

Simply, policy analysts develop government policies and provide advice and briefing to Ministers and Senior Management.

They do this by evaluating, researching and consulting with stakeholders, which will then inform the best advice for the government to adopt. As a result they must be excellent problem solvers, capable of weighing up the pros and cons of a particular policy option and finding which one is the best for their Minister. They must also know about, or be able to learn quickly, the policy cycle (how new policies are passed) and the machinery of government.

As public servants, policy analysts must have loyalty to the government of the day. While they may not personally agree with the direction Ministers are taking policy, at the end of the day they must go along with it.

Day to day, much of a policy analyst’s time is spent consulting with stakeholders and other agencies. They may also use research to get the public’s opinion on issues. There is currently a focus on ‘evidence-based’ research in government, which means that policy analysts usually consult with research teams and information and data analysts to provide hard, quantitative evidence that supports their policy. The rest of a policy analyst’s time is consumed by reading, writing and analysing information.

If a particular issue is raised in the public sphere, policy analysts must effectively analyse what’s important and prepare briefings for the ministers—often racing against the clock to make sure the minister is adequately prepared.

Policy analysts need to have a broad view of New Zealand and an in depth understanding of relevant history. For example, if they are working within an immigration role, they should be knowledgeable about previous immigration policies, and their social, economic and political effects on the country. They must also be ‘environment scanners’—that is, they need to keep abreast of new developments both within the country and in the wider world.

Policy analysts would be expected to have at least one relevant tertiary qualification, such as a bachelor’s degree in social science, history, law, economics, public policy, social policy, or political science.